Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The Howling


Dir: Joe Dante (Gremlins, Innerspace, The Hole)
Cast: Dee Wallace, Belinda Balaski, Elisabeth Brooks, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Robert Picardo, Kevin McCarthy
USA, 1981

Seen: Revisited June 15, 2010

Reason to Watch & Review: For The Wolfathon *

I was convinced that The Howling had to be just 'one of those horror films' I'd seen as a kid, but after rewatching it - I think not. I saw many films at an inappropriately young age, but this was not one of them and it certainly would have been inappropriate.

The Howling is a bit of a doozy. It almost plays like 2 separate films: a serious slasher horror film and a campy werewolf film, and rarely do these two films meet either narratively or tonally. It's interesting to see the slasher side of things from a historical context, because now it's they are so formulaic, obvious and campy, but here it's actual feels scary and extremely threatening. I think it hits a different tone in The Howling as it really plays the sexual violence card, although indirectly, is still present in the film and to be honest is so disturbing that I'd likely not watch it again. Being in 1981 it's right around the time of Friday the 13th (1980) and My Bloody Valentine (1981), so it's still before the cookie cutter model of the slasher film, but they were certainly popping up.

The slasher aspect of the film really is only one aspect of the film, and is definitely there to serve as a threat and plot device. The film focuses on journalist Karen (Dee Wallace) whom goes to a retreat termed 'the colony'. Now, 'the colony' is where it ends up going crazy campy, from lines direct to the camera to ridiculous things put together that are implausible, to crazy 'eccentric' characters. We're talking pretty over the top here, and add the 80's charm of high waisted pants, guys with feathered hair and pretty overt symbolism. These parts of the film were rather entertaining.

As a werewolf film, it's clearly using it with a social commentary probably more overtly than any other film I've seen literally talking about the beast inside us, etc. I found that clearness, although sometime funny, was actually refreshing. It had something to say - and it said it. It's not a moral lesson or preachy, it's purely for entertainment. Now the effects on the other hand - they were all over the place. Sometimes they looked amazing, sometimes they looked ridiculous, but there certainly is a lot to look at. Although using the mainstay of editing is used, it also uses lots of direct long shots that I was mystified (and at times grossed out) at what they did. Any way you slice it, it was impressive in terms of volume and results. It's also pretty gory, that and the sex & nudity give it a clear R rating for the time.

Overall, it's not really to my taste. It it was all campy I would have enjoyed it more, and I appreciated that there were a fair amount of women characters, but the sexual violence made it uninteresting. It's 'one for the vault' in terms of werewolf films and I appreciated getting a sense of where it stood historically with other slasher films. I think I likely have seen already seen The Howling II, but either way I don't think I'll be continuing to explore this series.

Warnings: sexual violence, gore

Shannon's Overall View:
I didn't love it
I'd not likely watch it again
I'd recommend it for fans of quirky & gory horror and werewolf completists

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© Shannon Ridler, 2010

* The Wolfathon is a marathon exploring werewolf films in anticipation of the 2010 release of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse


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